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Tiny, Tiny Computers: Raspberry Pi and Other Miniature Computing Devices That Pack Big Punches

Tiny, Cheap, Capable Computers Have Arrived If you want one of the new credit card or USB sized computers, you will have to wait your turn. The first batch of Raspberry Pi boards that went on sale in early March 2012 sold out at the rate of 700 orders per second. See the story here. Unlike the Raspberry Pi that is slightly larger than a credit card, many miniature computers look like a USB stick. These include the FXI Cotton Candy, the Rikomagic MK802 and several other Android-powered devices. Most of these connect to peripherals and the Internet via USB ports, multi-media SD card slots, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet and HDMI. Plug the Cotton Candy into a HDMI slot on a television and the TV becomes the screen for the computer; connected to a laptop, the laptop becomes its display. Most run Android applications but cost considerably more than the bare circuit board, Linux-powered Raspberry Pi. The varieties with a case generally excel Raspberry Pi in RAM and processor speed. All need an input device such as keyboard and mouse, and a power supply, usually via the USB port.

Educators

By the end of the 1990s, applicants for computer studies at Cambridge showed a decrease in subject familiarity. Addressing this situation, a group of individuals worked on an idea to rekindle interest in programming among primary and high school students. The group found the solution by analyzing the problems:

  • The cost of personal computers hindered schools from allowing students to reassemble hardware or conduct risky programming experiments that might “brick,” render unusable, the non-free operating systems.
  • The focus of computer courses skipped or treated lightly programming and instead taught utilitarian programs such as word processors, spreadsheets or web browsers.

When the group’s initial ideas showed that a hardware approach to the problem was possible, they created the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The result is the Raspberry Pi, a computer so inexpensive at $35 that every student can have his own instead of sharing a school’s computers. The Raspberry Pi is an unenclosed circuit board inviting experimentation. Since it boots a Linux operating system from an SD card, one cannot corrupt system files on the computer. The bare circuit board with Wi-Fi and various connectors and ports for multi-media SD cards, USB, HDMI video and Ethernet, tickles the tinkerer in both children and adults. With project examples flooding the forums, students are likely to want to try their hand at both programming and hardware modification.

Hobbyists

Even though supply of Raspberry Pi boards is very limited, hobbyists have already found many uses including:

Raspberry Pi

  • Stream videos on the Web or locally
  • Display high-resolution games on screens ranging in size from a large HDMI television to a little 3.5-inch LCD
  • Create a touch pad computer
  • Assemble an autonomous boat to cross the Atlantic

Fish Pi

  • Create an embedded GPS navigation system
  • Develop unmanned weather and ocean sensors that log and report via satellite
  • Build a flying robot for use in disaster relief operations

Imagine all this capability fitting into your shirt pocket. Tiny portable computers have and will continue to spur innovative applications. Computer science students will learn programming earlier. Hardware modification will become fun for more students. Hobbyists will find new delight inventing diverse gadgets. Business people will discover an easier way to carry and deliver presentations. Scientists will extend the reach of data collection at lower cost. And those of us who do not need the full capabilities of a netbook or laptop will feel lighter.

Author Bio:- Karl Stockton writes for Quick Label. For those interested in printers, QL provides color label printers.

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